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Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Renaissance Food Terminology, a few odd terms

Renaissance Food Terms
'All the King's Cooks' Peter Brears
'Food and Feast in Medieval England' Peter Hammond
'Food and Feast in Tudor England'  Alison Sim 

Let’s be honest, most of these terms are Medieval but these are some of the things with which Felicia and Robin would be familiar. 
Here you will find Manchet Bread, Cheat Bread, Maslin Bread, Coney,Verjuice, Girout, Frumenty, Herbolace, Poor Knights of Windsor/Payne Perdew, Pie/Coffin, Mortrews, Collops, Aloes, Risshews, Skuets. Million Pie, Macrows and Possets/Caudles. 
My apologies that I haven't  yet worked out how to put in an internal link to jump directly to them all

Manchet bread – the finest, whitest bread, only eaten by the richest, ground very finely, no bits at all to wear the teeth.  This is the bread the prioress in the Canterbury tales fed her dog, the point being that she gave her pet food that most of the populace could not afford. At that, as a white bread it is not as white as we would expect white bread to be, not being as finely milled and bleached as modern tastes call for. 

Cheat or Chat bread – the next grade of bread.  Everyday fare for most people would eat.  Wholemeal.

Maslin bread – a coarse, dark bread made from a mix of rye and other grains.  Maslin was a rye mix usually sown for animal feed but the poorest made do with bread  made from it. 

Why Rabbit is Coney
In this period rabbit refers only to the young animal, under a year old; the adult is a coney. Henry VIII liked rabbit served with sauce of parsley, boiled butter, and verjuice [see below] served with salt and pepper and thickened with breadcrumbs. Rabbits for great houses were reared in warrens which might be huge affairs a mile across, or a smaller warren mound, stemming from the time when the Normans introduced them and they were sufficiently delicate to have trouble surviving the English climate.  Wild rabbits and hares were also in season September-March. Rabbits were more profitable than sheep on poor soil as besides the meat, the skins  could be sold to to tailors, glovers and hatters.
Also it is a meat that is available in winter, valuable in a time when most meat animals were slaughtered.  Pigeons in a dovecot were similarly available.
Up to a few months old, rabbit was designated as not counting as meat so monks could eat them on fast days.  (young)Rabbit meat fried with spinach. 
Coney derives from Latin cuniculus. Apicus, the famous gourmet of  the1st Century praised rabbit meatballs.  [Never got around to making them myself.]

For Henry VIII this was crabapple juice, but any tart juice could be called Verjuice; indeed it was common to make it from the pressings of grapes that did not ripen as was common enough in England [I have a vine and it’s only ripened fully to black three times that I know of; 1976, 2008 and 2009].

Meat stew served to William the Bastard on his coronation day – Christmas day – and served at every coronation since up to George V.
By  the 16th Century prunes and spices added, and it was called Christmas broth, porridge or pottage. Gradually more spices added and it became Christmas pudding

Served with venison or on its own, this is essentially boiled, cracked wheat, the name deriving from the Latin frumentum, grain. It may also be called fermenty, furmity or a number of different incarnations of the name.  Some recipes call for the cooking to be done in milk  or broth, and may include egg. Also to this may be added saffron, dried fruit, sugar, almonds, almond milk, spices, such as cinnamon, and orange flower water. You may be sure that Henry VIII had the richest variety.
It was a traditional Christmas dish, and also eaten on Mothering Sunday [American readers, please note that the English Mothering Sunday was during Lent and was a time to visit the Mother Church, nothing to do with one’s female parental unit; the permitted use of egg in frumenty was a welcome Lenten departure from fast].

Baked egg with cheese and herbs, a fore-runner of the omelette

Poor Knights of Windsor AKA Payn Perdew AKA Poor Knights’ Pudding
Bread cut into sticks, soaked in beaten egg [and possibly sherry], scattered with sugar and cinnamon and fried. This is a way of using up stale bread.  The name Payn Perdew is from Pain Perdu which is French for lost bread, because the bread is covered in the batter.

Just a note that this is a word that is short for magpie, leading also to the word pied [as in pied piper] meaning two coloured.  In the terms of foodstuff it refers to the habit magpies have of collecting an eclectic selection of stuff. Pie is a dish made of any old thing in other words….. Medieval pies were big with a thick ‘coffin’ of pastry made of flour, butter, broth and an egg or two.  Melton Mowbray pie is the earliest recipe for pork pies in 14th C and includes plenty of raisins and currants in the coffin. Coffin was the term generally used for the crust.

Described as a  pottage of pounded pork or chicken, flavoured with minced onion and stuffed with egg yolks and breadcrumbs sufficient ‘that it be standing’: which is to say, not so much a pottage really as a form of meat loaf.  This is a medieval dish still extant. 
One might also have a mortews of fish.

Monday prior to Ash Wednesday is called collop Monday in the north of England.  The last meat is eaten then, of collops, or slices of meat or bacon lightly fried then stewed in gravy.  In south, collops are cut from bacon or ham.  In north and Scotland venison sometimes used, or more often steak or lamb

Aloes or Olives of Beef or Veal
Aloe is a corruption of the Old French for Lark which this dish is supposed to resemble.  This dish appears in the Middle Ages and consists of meat slices wrapped around a herb stuffing and baked.

 We would call them rissoles, cakes made of ground meat which might contain herbs and vegetables,  baked or fried.

Medieval kebabs…. skewers of pork, veal or lamb. Used in the  middle ages, given flamboyance by Richard II whose cooks served dainty titbits of meat on silver skewers.  Parboil onion, use bacon and lamb rubbed with salt and pepper, mace, clove or ginger.  Also mushroom.  Dip threaded skuets in melted butter and spoon it over while cooking on spit-grill.

Million Pie
A Norfolk dish made of the million, mullion, or melon, or as we know it today, the pumpkin.  This was the local dish that was the forerunner of the Pilgrim Fathers’ well know pumpkin pie.

Macaroni; a 14th Century name for it. 

Possets and caudles
These are mentioned as early as 12th Century.
The name may change but essentially it is a thickened milk drink, curdled with ale or wine.  The thickener can be oatmeal, breadcrumbs or egg.  Drunk in medieval period for breakfast or supper. It could be as mean as a drink made with whey or buttermilk  and ale with stale breadcrumbs, or as rich as one made with heavy sherry wine and cream with eggs.  Generally it would be given as a bever, a half drink, half meal workmen would take between meals to keep them going.  Nowadays we have egg-nogg.


  1. The possets remind me of today's breakfast milk drinks in a tetrapak :)

  2. yes, or complan or other invalid meals in a drink